Off Limits

Blade runners: The battle of the TV news choppers continues down at Speer Boulevard and Logan Street, where KUSA-TV/Channel 9 is finally poised to begin flying in and out of its inner-city digs sometime in mid-July. The station, which backed away from the use of copters after suffering six Sky9 crashes between 1980 and 1992--including a 1988 wreck in which two station employees died--got permission for the flights years ago when it moved from downtown to its Speer site. That location already had an air-traffic history thanks to its previous incarnation as a National Guard armory. But in the intervening years, neighbors haven't necessarily grown any more fond of the idea of having a whirlybird zip in and out of their backyard.

One resident who lives just a block away from the station, attorney Bob Strenski, recalls having a conversation with Channel 9 helicopter pilot Peter Peelgrane back in the days when the station was holding neighborhood meetings to mollify concerns about safety and noise. The affable Peelgrane, he says, reassured him about the dependability of helicopters. "He said he wouldn't be flying the things if he didn't think they were safe," recalls Strenski. "Unfortunately, not too long after, he was involved in an accident that eventually caused his death." The crash came in 1992, when Peelgrane's craft plummeted into Horsetooth Reservoir near Fort Collins; the pilot survived the wreck, in which two freelance photographers perished, but he suffered serious brain damage and finally died of complications in 1995, at which point the plucky Australian was promptly cremated and interred in four empty cans of Foster's Lager.

At the time, the Alamo Placita Neighborhood Association opposed the flights, but other neighborhood groups backed the plan, an agreement that, among other things, led to the construction of Channel 9's modernistic headquarters. There's been no recent squawking from the Alamo Placitans--the same bunch, by the way, who recently were able to shut down the venerable Firehouse car wash. Strenski says he's still opposed, but station general manager Roger Ogden says Channel 9 is confident the new chopper will pose minimal problems for residents. For one thing, Ogden says, the station isn't actually going to operate the chopper itself; instead, it'll be flown in partnership with KOA Radio, whose popular flyboy Al Verley will man the controls. The four-bladed Bell 407, which is supposed to be quieter than the old two-bladed models, will be based at Centennial Airport--also home to Channel 4's chopper. And when it does fly into the heart of the city, it'll do so only during daylight hours (a good thing, since the Channel 9 helipad isn't lit).

As for safety concerns, Ogden says that although "you certainly can't deny what's gone on in the past," the 407 is a state-of-the-art chopper that was specially designed for high-altitude operation. The flight path approved by the Federal Aviation Administration goes directly over Cherry Creek, he adds, "and since the pad is virtually on the banks of the creek, we're not flying over structures as we come in." Besides, there's already a precedent for news choppers buzzing around the area: Channel 7's copter "goes right by my window," notes Ogden, on its way to the station's headquarters tower at Speer and Lincoln. Channel 7 bigwigs have talked about possibly adding a heavier camera to their craft to offer viewers the latest visuals, but they apparently still haven't figured out a way to get more than 134 people to watch Natalie Pujo on a daily basis.

What's up with that?

El-daze: Those fiendishly clever headline writers at the Rocky Mountain News have done it again. Not content to rest on their well-padded laurels after the memorable "El-Yea!" banner headline that greeted the Broncos' long-awaited Super Bowl victory, on Monday the gang came up with an even more elegant front-page screamer--and eight pages of pulse-pounding coverage--to herald our star quarterback's decision to hang around one more season: "El-Play!"

Alas, Elway's announcement prevented the News from using a number of equally inspired headlines that their top veterans had developed to address every possible contingency: "El-Nay!" (John retires), "El-May!" (John can't make up his mind), "El-Pray!" (John joins Promise Keepers), "El-Gay!" (John makes a surprising change of lifestyle), "El-Vey!" (John converts to Judaism), "El-Weigh!" (John joins Denver Post celeb Kerri Smith for some counseling on how to shed those extra pounds), and the inevitable "El-to-Pay!" (John buys the Denver Broncos from Pat Bowlen and moves the team to El Lay).


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